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News & Views

Herd Thinking

A few years back, a plane crashed in Africa.

It was an internal flight from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, to a town called Bindundu.

The crash happened as the plane was coming in to land.

Twenty people on board, including the two pilots, were killed outright.

There was only one survivor, who was immediately taken to hospital.

No one could understand the reason for the crash.

The plane was modern and in good condition.

It was a Czech-made twin engine turboprop Let L-410.

Weather and visibility were excellent.

The two pilots, Chris Wilson from England and Danny Philemotte from Belgium, were both qualified and experienced.

The wreckage was examined and everything was found to be in good mechanical order.

They couldn’t find a single reason for the plane to crash.


They questioned the only survivor, in hospital.

He explained what happened, and it was something no one could ever have guessed.

He said one of the passengers had hidden a young crocodile in their duffle bag.

Because it was illegal they had to smuggle it on board.

All the luggage was stacked at the rear of the plane, behind the passengers.

As the plane was coming in to land the young crocodile got loose.

The stewardess ran to the front of the plane to tell the pilots.

The passengers saw her running away from the crocodile and panicked.

They all ran after her.

All the weight shifted to the front of the plane and it went into a dive.

The pilot told everyone to get back.

But with the plane nose-down they couldn’t climb back up the aisle.

The pilot couldn’t pull the plane out of the dive.

The plane ploughed, at full speed, head first into the ground.

And twenty people died.

But the young crocodile lived, because it was in the rear.

It crawled off the plane and tried to escape into the bush.

But when a local saw it, he hacked it to death with a machete.

He didn’t know it came off the plane.

So without the survivor, no one would ever have known what caused the crash.

Because you wouldn’t ever dream a crocodile would cause a plane crash.

Actually what caused it was panic.

The crocodile wasn’t a fully-grown, twenty foot long man-eater.

It was small enough to fit into a duffel bag.

The worst it could do was to give you a nasty bite.

And if you left it alone it probably wouldn’t even do that.

But no one was thinking.

Everyone was just copying everyone else.

If other people are running away, we’d better do the same.

Because that’s what people do.

They copy each other without thinking.

That’s a massively strong force.

It overrides logic, questioning, debate, reasoning, common-sense.

The need to be part of the herd.

Even though the evidence is, it often results in bad decisions.

Injury, death, injustice, wars, genocide.

Entire nations follow along because each individual fears being different, fears being left out, fears being ostracised.

That’s why the time to resist is at the point you find yourself going along with conventional wisdom.

It’s uncomfortable to be the outsider.

But the only opportunity you have to think is before you join the herd.

Once you’ve joined it’s too late.

Then the herd does your thinking for you.

And it’s not always to your benefit.

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